White House 'clarifies' H-1B, green card rules to attract investment

Obama administration moves to make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to get visas and create U.S.-based start-ups

WASHINGTON - The White House is attempting to make it more attractive for foreign entrepreneurs to create a business in the U.S. by "clarifying" H-1B visa and green card rules.

This idea of making it easier for foreign investors to create U.S.-based start-ups has been pitched by lawmakers who proposed "start-up visa" or "founder's visa" bills in recent years.

The White House isn't proposing new visa regulations, but is instead making what it characterized as "clarifying" adjustments to green card and H-1B rules that may make it easier for foreign investors to get a visa.

For instance, officials clarified the definition of a visa sponsor, according to Aneesh Chopra, the U.S. CTO who outlined the changes at a White House jobs forum held Tuesday at VMware's headquarters in Silicon Valley.

U.S. based employment visas are typically sponsored by the hiring company. "But," said Chopra, "if you are an immigrant founder, it's sort of hard to sponsor yourself."

The new guidance, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, says a company founder may qualify for EB-2 Green Card visa if his or her position would report to a board of directors.

This visa also requires advanced degrees or some exceptional ability, which is "a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the sciences, arts, or business," according to USCIS.

Similarly, an "immigrant founder" may be eligible for an H-1B visa "if there is a way to demonstrate that if in fact there is a separation between your role as founder and that role as employee," said Chopra in the Webcasted presentation.

The U.S. already has what's called an EB-5 visa, a green card visa for a foreigner founding a business that has a minimum start-up investment of $500,000 and creates at least 10 jobs. The EB-5 includes a two-year conditional residence period which allows the USCIS to see whether jobs were created.

The U.S. can issue up to 10,000 of EB-5 visas annually, but only about half are used.

The USCIS also plans to make it easier for foreign investors work with the agency to expedite the processing of EB-5 visas, as well as making it easier for eligible applicants to meet with USCIS's panel of experts "to resolve outstanding issues in an application," the agency said.

Alejandro Mayorkas, the USCIS director, said in a telephone briefing that the intent of the changes is "to ensure that those avenues are available as the law envisioned."

Robert Deasy, director of liaison and information for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the USCIS changes are "not hugely substantive," but what the administration is trying to do "is send a message of welcoming" to potential start-up companies.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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